Germany Investigates Donations to Far Right
Posted November 20, 2018 8:44 p.m. EST
BERLIN — Prosecutors have begun an investigation into a leader and three members of the far-right Alternative for Germany Party for accepting “dubious donations” worth $145,000 from a Swiss company in the heat of last year’s election campaign, which saw the party surge to the third-strongest in the country.
The main target of the investigation is Alice Weidel, who was a leading candidate in last year’s national election and has since served as its floor leader in Parliament. The investigation could undermine the party, known by its German initials AfD, which has become the main opposition force in Parliament.
So far AfD has stood behind Weidel, who has denied the campaign finance violations, which were first uncovered last week by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and the public broadcasters NDR and WDR. Prosecutors in the southern city of Konstanz then started the investigation, but had to wait for Weidel’s parliamentary immunity to be lifted.
Under German law, political parties are banned from accepting donations of more than 1,000 euros, about $1,100, from anyone living in a country that is not a member of the European Union, unless the donor is a German national. The full identity of the individual donor must also be stated, not just the name of an entity like a company or foundation.
At a party congress over the weekend, Weidel sought to blame the journalists who had uncovered the donations, whose reports she said “lack any basis and represent an attempt to discredit me personally and politically.”
Questionable donations are not unknown to German political parties, but the AfD, best known for hostility toward immigrants, has claimed to be more transparent than the leading parties. Prosecutors did not identify the three other party members under investigation in connection with the donation, but said all were from Weidel’s regional party chapter.
The AfD has confirmed that the $145,000, which came from a Zurich-based pharmaceutical firm, was deposited in the account of the party’s Bodensee branch, of which Weidel is a co-leader. It was earmarked “Election Donation Alice Weidel.” Although the party repaid the donation, which arrived in 18 installments of around $9,000 each, it did not do so until this spring, long after the campaign.
The party later said it also received $170,000 from a Belgian foundation, which was later revealed to be Dutch. The AfD also returned that money after concerns were raised about a lack of clarity regarding the exact donor, party officials told German media.
The investigation will force the party to defend itself as its popularity, which had grown sharply, appears to have hit a plateau. Recent polls have shown the party hovering around 15 percent support nationwide, only slightly above the 12.6 percent of the vote it won in last year’s parliamentary election.
But the wave of anti-refugee sentiment that carried the AfD following the arrival in Germany of more than 1 million people seeking asylum in 2015 failed to galvanize large numbers of voters in two regional votes, in the western states of Bavaria and Hesse.
Although the party won representation in both regional legislatures — earning seats in all 16 German states — it was the environmentalist, pro-immigrant Greens who made the biggest gains in both states.